DESTINATION FOCUS • February 2018
With year-round sunshine, the Mediterranean town of Almeria mixes Moorish heritage with buzzing tapas bars – and a new British Airways route from Heathrow makes it easy to reach for a weekend break. Beyond this Andalucian beauty, dramatic drives lead to desert landscapes and idyllic beaches, says travel writer Annie Bennett
Wandering around the 10th-century Alcazaba, which dominates the city, it is easy to understand why the Moorish hilltop fortress featured in hit TV series Game of Thrones – one of several locations in the province of Almeria. Although largely rebuilt over the years, the Alcazaba is an evocative vestige of this provincial capital’s origins, when silk, ceramics and olive oil were exported around the Mediterranean from its port.
Slip straight into the city’s rhythm by trawling the many bars – both traditional and contemporary – where you usually get a free tapa with every drink. Start at Casa Puga, which dates from 1870 and is adorned with blue-tiled walls, hanging hams and huge wine vats. Order the mojama air-dried tuna and some sizzling prawns.
At Aire Hotel and Ancient Baths, a chic hotel on the Plaza de la Constitucion in the heart of the city, you can gaze at the Alcazaba, glass of wine close at hand, while chilling in the rooftop pool. Or, soak up the Moorish vibe in the sumptuous hammam’s thermal baths hidden inside the elegant 19th-century building.
Head to the beach and walk along the promenade for a cold beer on the terrace of Delfin Verde, the hotel where John Lennon stayed in the 1960s and was inspired to start writing Strawberry Fields Forever. The Beatle was one of many stars who came to Almeria to feature in movies shot in the area, including Clint Eastwood and Harrison Ford.
Driving north from the city towards the town of Tabernas, 50km away, you will enter an extraordinary desert landscape that has been the backdrop for numerous films and TV series, including Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Who. Fort Bravo is one of the Wild West towns built for spaghetti westerns, where visitors can march into the saloon to re-enact their favourite cowboy scene.
Travel east out of the city for an hour and you enter Cabo de Gata Natural Park, on Spain’s southern tip, where undulating cliffs, created by volcanic eruptions, protect a string of pristine beaches. The clear water attracts divers of all abilities, particularly to tiny La Isleta de Moro, where you can eat paella at Pension La Isleta Del Moro, so close to the sea that the spray sprinkles your skin.